CEDAR RAPIDS — Rule changes for the federal rental assistance program known as Section 8 are being tweaked after a legal organization criticized proposals as creating “significant negative consequences” for some of the area’s most vulnerable residents.
Sara Buck, Cedar Rapids housing program manager, said in some cases the proposed language in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program administrative rules has been modified to better reflect intent, but in other cases concerns were unfounded.
“Essentially, one of the main concerns was regarding the extended absence,” Buck said of when a tenant leaves a residence for a long period of time, such as, for instance, to check into a hospital. “The intent of the change was to acknowledge receipt of notification of extended absence. It wasn’t to approve extended absence, so we clarified and reworded it to remove the word ‘approve.’”
The change would require Section 8 recipients to provide notice to the Cedar Rapids Housing Service Office — which includes the Public Housing Authority of Linn and Benton Counties — of any absence greater than 14 days, down from 30 days. The rule changes take effect on July 1, pending a public hearing and City Council approval June 27.
Ericka Petersen, a lawyer with Iowa Legal Aid, challenged this change in April saying requiring approval for extended absences and reducing the threshold for notification of an extended absence to 14 days could cause people to lose their homes.
In the case of narrowing the time frame, Buck said it matched what most local landlords state in their leases. The resident advisory board of Section 8 tenants also deemed the change “reasonable” for tenants and landlords, and protected the federal program from abuse, she said.
The public can provide comments on the changes to the City Clerk, 101 First St. SE, until June 26, which is the day before the matter goes before City Council. The council meeting begins at 4 p.m. at City Hall.
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The city’s Housing Services Office administers locally the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program is designed to help “very low-income families and individuals with rental assistance for decent, safe and sanitary housing, provided by private owners and rental agents,” documents say.
HUD requires housing authorities amend their five-year, annual and administrative plans each year to meet current regulation. Amendments and discretionary policy changes must be listed and submitted to HUD.
Those changes were due by April 17, but don’t take effect until July 1.
This gave city officials time to review Iowa Legal Aid concerns, and make modifications before the changes take effect, officials had said.
The Gazette tried to contact Petersen for comment in recent weeks and again Monday but was not successful.
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